by Max Brantley
Drama in the House this afternoon on blockage of the Insurance Department appropriation, HB 1226, by a Republican minority. The Republican minority has been blocking the bill, which requires 75 votes, because it contains a federal grant to establish health insurance exchanges under the federal health care law. A Republican effort to defeat that planning already had failed in committee. It hasn't reached a vote in the House, but requires only a majority vote.
Republican Rep. John Burris asked for an opportunity to open the bill to amendment to deal with objections on "principle" to a portion of the bill. He wanted an opportunity to again debate the federal health care money in the bill and perhaps make it a separate vote (where the minority could assuredly kill it). Democrats have said killing the bill as written would not only put the Insurance Department out of work, it would cripple the state budget from lost insurance tax revenue and potentially shut down insurance companies in the state. Burris' motion failed 45-51.
Burris argued that the intent was not to shut down the Insurance Department, but to object to the federal planning money. Whatever. The result of the minority blocking vote will be to shut down the department, cripple revenue and end insurance regulation in Arkansas. He asked for appreciation of the "difficult position" he and others were in. He also said he and others "recognize at a certain point this has to pass."
Rep. Barry Hyde noted that the concern about the bill didn't come up in the Joint Budget Committee where the bill was approved. "I haven't seen you in budget committee with those questions," Hyde said.
Rep. Kathy Webb said the issue was debated in Joint Budget and the bill was passed on a roll call vote. She said it was a critical issue, with $100 million from the Insurance Department going to state operations and pensions and thousands of people employed in the insurance industry.
The bill failed 70-23, which meant a number of Republicans supported passage. It will return. Burris voted for passage. Roll call will be here eventually.